This is Part 2 of a story which begins here. It chronicles the unforeseen results of my having had the temerity to publish a column on voting in the local Catholic press just before the 2004 elections.
I felt good about what I had written. I thought I had expressed myself well. I sat back and naively expected peace and goodwill to ensue.
That isn’t what happened.
I was working in my kitchen one morning when the phone rang. This was way before iPhones so the identity of the caller came as a complete shock. It was the Chancellor of my Diocese calling to tell me that the Bishop!! wanted me to know that he could not support everything I had written.
I am not going to try to recount that whole conversation. It was eight long years ago after all. But some parts I remember quite clearly. As I stood in my pantry staring at the shelves, the Chancellor told me that Pope John Paul’s condemnation of the Iraq war was merely his “prudential judgment.” He said that the Pope had not declared it an infallible, ex cathedra teaching. I think he might have been a bit surprised that I was able to fire back the names of the TWO (yes, only two) such pronouncements on which all theologians agree.
What I remember very clearly is the impression I was left with–that I had just been ARGUED with by a Church official about whether there might be a “Catholic” way to vote in the coming election. And I remember wondering, if it all comes down to prudential judgment, shouldn’t I, as a Catholic, give more weight to the judgment of the Holy Father than to that of any elected secular official?
Before it got better, it got a lot worse. Shortly thereafter I got another call. This time it was the Bishop himself on the other end of the line! I got the sense that he knew the first call hadn’t gone well and that he felt bad about it. His call had more of a pastoral tone. I honestly cannot remember WHAT he said, but I could tell he wanted me to feel better about the whole thing. I recall that he stated that he would be publishing something himself later to clarify the issues involved.
In those days my husband was an active Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus, and I saw the Bishop frequently at KOC events. He had always been friendly and kind and complimentary about my column in the past. So I felt bad. Very bad.
See, I consider myself to be orthodox, more so than most people I know. I take the teachings of the Church very seriously. I am not a “cafeteria Catholic.” And before I wrote that column I made sure to read the relevant parts of the Catechism and the Gospel of Life and the document the Bishops put out every election year. I had my husband read it over too. I wanted to make ABSOLUTELY sure that it reflected Church teaching.
To have someone in the hierarchy suggest differently was DEEPLY painful. (I am sorry for all the capital letters. It’s how I am feeling as I write this.) It’s still painful. I don’t feel completely comfortable publishing this, and probably would not if either of the people involved were still in the Diocese of Knoxville.
Was I wrong? And if I was wrong, was I going to have to believe that the Church could back certain voting choices? If so, would I have to follow those directions to remain a faithful Catholic? Or was I going to have to become a dissenter in order to follow my own conscience?
I didn’t like any of those options. I was in spiritual agony. I was also about eight months pregnant. Not a good combination.
I went back and reread what I had written. I read the documents again. I still couldn’t find anything wrong with what I had said. Nor could other people I trusted. Could this mean that it was the “prudential judgments” of the Bishop and the Chancellor that were in error? That was a scary thought.
In the end, though, that’s what I’ve come to believe. I stand today by what I wrote eight years ago.
But there’s more to the story. Stay tuned.